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Monday, 18 June 2001
Page: 27792

FRAN BAILEY (4:29 PM) —This Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2001-2002 before us today delivers on what this government has been focused on for the last five years. It delivers responsible economic management, a budget surplus, a $60 billion reduction in government debt, a $4 billion a year cut in government interest payments, low inflation, low interest rates and an unemployment rate that is at the lowest level it has been for many years. This government has recognised the fundamental importance of responsible economic management. Without it, the government's ability to fulfil its responsibilities and to provide for and create an environment in which everyone has equal opportunities is severely limited. You simply cannot have good economic policy without good social policy and vice versa—they go hand in hand.

Five consecutive budget surpluses have been used to reduce government debt. This has helped to pull down interest rates and to enhance private capital investment, labour productivity and economic growth. The budget surpluses that have been produced have also increased national savings and, in the long run, led to higher investment and living standards. I often say to people in my electorate that there is very little difference between the government budget and the family budget. If the family budget is weighed down by excessive debt, there is nothing for the extra things that families might want to do, whether that be taking a holiday, buying a new car or computers for the kids, or whatever. Government is in exactly the same situation. If government is weighed down by debt, it simply does not have resources to put into many of the social programs which are necessary.

Under the previous government, irresponsible economic policy was taken to a new high. Under the ALP, Australia was living beyond its means and, in the process, it damaged the Australian economy. People must not forget how things were pre-1996 with record high budget deficits, $80 billion in government debt, high interest rates that crippled small businesses and severely penalised home owners, an outdated and unfair tax system and an unemployment rate which reached double figures. Make no mistake: if given another chance, the ALP will increased taxes, as their record shows. They are about big government, big spending, big taxes and big deficits, crowding out private investment, providing no incentive whatsoever for entrepreneurial and risk-taking activity, resulting in reduced real incomes and savings levels. Budget deficits have a detrimental effect on the economy because they result in higher government borrowings and inflation. Inevitably, this impacts on interest rates and has an adverse outcome with respect to private capital spending and investment decisions. Now that this government has decreased our debt, reduced interest payments and operated stable and responsible monetary and fiscal policies, it is possible for the government to concentrate on building on its social obligations. This includes putting more resources into building on our social capital and infrastructure—greater resources for education, health and welfare—delivering a social bonus to the people of Australia.

A record $7.6 billion will be spent by the federal government over the next four years on vocational education and training programs. The federal government, with this budget, has recognised the importance of building on what has already been established in areas such as jobs pathways, numeracy and literacy programs, new apprenticeship incentives, job placement and education training. In total, the federal government will provide over $12.4 billion in 2001-02 to support schools, training and education. Federal government funding to government schools has also grown by almost 46 per cent between 1996 and 2002. Most importantly for my electorate, the government has signalled its commitment to providing first-class education and training opportunities for young people in rural and regional areas. On the question of funding for education, there has been one almighty scare campaign raised. At an AISV dinner which I spoke at in Melbourne last Thursday night, I had a very good example given to me. It is this: if you were to take a bucket and put all of the state funding for education into it and then put all the federal funding into it, out of every dollar that was extracted for education, 24c goes to non-government education. Nowhere could the example be made more clearly. It was a very good example to let people know in very clear and concise terms exactly what the funding position is for both government and non-government education.

In 2001, we have 1.6 million young people in vocational education and training, and this compares to only 1.2 million when this government came to office. The number of young people in new apprenticeships now totals 300,000, and this is more than double the number of people in apprenticeships prior to this government coming to power in 1996. Despite running massive and crippling budget deficits, the ALP neglected these important areas of educational and social infrastructure. These appropriation bills will also provide an extra $2 billion for new apprenticeships, incentives for employers to take on new apprentices and extra incentives for those in rural and regional areas. I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that small business in my electorate really welcomes that.

Giving more young people than at any time in the past the opportunity to learn new skills and trades and to set out on career paths in which they will make a productive and worthwhile contribution to their local communities is what these programs are all about, as well as of course promoting self-esteem amongst young people. This is vitally important in regional and rural areas such as the areas I represent, where many young people are often left with little option but to leave home and to travel to the city in search of opportunities. With this government's focus on new apprenticeships, young people no longer have to do this. Employers in regional and rural areas will continue to be given important incentives to take on these young people, to provide them with skills and to give them a means of developing career paths for their futures.

These appropriation bills also provide additional funding for the highly successful Jobs Pathway training and placement programs. The Jobs Pathway programs help to smooth the transition from school to work for young people aged between 15 and 19 by providing personal assistance that focuses on the skills and knowledge required to reduce their risk of becoming unemployed. The ongoing funding means that services will continue to assist up to 70,000 young people annually from over 1,600 secondary schools around Australia, and I am proud to say that the secondary schools in my electorate are right in with this program and young people are benefiting.

Schools in my electorate have welcomed the focus on vocational education. In particular, Mansfield Secondary College has participated in a vocational education and training project, with 16 students taking part and 15 signing training agreements after successful completion of the training. That is just one example across my huge and diverse electorate. I think having 15 out of 16 young people signing up and getting the benefit of that is an excellent outcome.

Young people at risk of homelessness and other disadvantage will also benefit from an additional $16.8 million over four years though the JPET program. This funding ensures JPET will continue to assist young people until 2005, with a direct program commitment of $74.4 million over this period. In 2001, the number of young Australians in Jobs Pathway type training programs totals over 168,000. This compares with only 26,000 before March 1996. Nowhere is there such a stark contrast, especially with regard to young people, between what the Labor Party did when they were in government, prior to 1996, and what we have done. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and nowhere will young people find better support than from this government.

Once again, this signals an ongoing commitment—because of the funding going to the years ahead—and this has been able to be implemented only because of responsible economic management. Once again, if you are heavily weighed down with debt, you simply do not have the funds to put into these programs. This delivering of a social bonus, brought about by responsible economic management, is what government is all about. It is about delivering services on the ground to people.

This government is also reinforcing its commitment to funding places for young people in regional higher education: $34.8 million is being made available to establish an extra 5,226 places for regional higher education institutions, once again recognising the fact that families want their young to have access to further education within their own regional areas. Prior to March 1996, the literacy and numeracy levels of teenagers in Australia were at an unacceptable level. Close to 30 per cent of teenagers were unable to read or write. This government will continue its commitment to the National Literacy and Numeracy Plan, and $36.9 million has been allocated to provide ongoing support for this. This program has been a resounding success, reducing the rate of teenagers unable to read and write from 30 per cent to 13 per cent. I think 13 per cent is still way too high, but just imagine the number of young people who now have a chance, who have the opportunity to get their foot in the door simply because they are now able to read and write.

This is something which I am sure most of us take for granted, but without it you get absolutely nowhere. You do not get a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder unless you can read and write. I am very proud that this government has actually reduced that from the very unacceptable, high level of 30 per cent down to 13 per cent. The ongoing support for this program is going to see that 13 per cent reduced even further. That means, of course, that those young people will now get access to training programs. They are not going to drop out of school and they are not going to get into difficulty; they are actually going to have a chance in life, and that is what it is all about. These benefits really deserve bipartisan support. I think everyone would agree on the undoubted benefits of an educated society. I can only wonder why there has not been bipartisan and ongoing support for this program. If the ALP were to roll back the GST, which provides $5.7 billion to Victoria alone, I would like to ask how such funds could continue to be provided for such essential programs.

Information technology is also being utilised to provide educational opportunities for regional and rural Australia. These appropriation bills provide $34.1 million over five years to support online curriculum development. You have only to visit a little primary school like Jamieson in my electorate to watch young primary school students logging online to take part in science adventure programs. This is a very remote community in my electorate, and watching these young students is absolutely fantastic. This is what this sort of funding means. When you pick up the budget papers and you read that there is $34 million for online curriculum development, it does not say very much. But when you start to implement this program you can see the direct benefit, like the benefit that the primary school students in Jamieson in my electorate receive. I must say that I was very honoured to be able to launch that online science program just last year. It is fantastic that even students in remote areas in my electorate now have access to this technology.

Last year the federal government announced the largest rural health package ever put together by a government. The regional health strategy is providing $562 million to increase doctor numbers and to provide better health services in areas outside the major city centres. It is interesting to note that prior to March 1996, under the ALP, the percentage of medical services which were bulk-billed stood at 58 per cent. In 2001, this figure now stands at 72 per cent, which once again reinforces this government's continued commitment to Medicare and to bulk-billing.

I must say, as a point of interest, that when we came into government there was not one place to access Medicare anywhere in my electorate of almost 15,000 square kilometres. Today I am proud to say that people now have that access in pharmacies throughout my area for the very first time ever. People living in rural and regional areas and even outer metropolitan areas not all that far from the areas that the member for Jagajaga represents have now got access. I think that is an important contribution. I also think that the rebate for lifetime private health insurance cover—of course, non-existent under the previous government—is an important contribution.

An issue which is of continuing concern to all of the people who live in the rural and more remote areas of my electorate is getting access to GPs. It is never an easy issue. What was done prior to 1996? Precious little. This government has put in place a whole range of incentive packages to make it much easier to get GPs into rural areas. Another area of great concern, especially for families, is immunisation. Immunisation rates have increased from a low of 53 per cent prior to 1996—it is really unbelievable to think that they could be as low as that, but in fact they were—to 91 per cent in 2001, and there is a target of 95 per cent. I think the target should be 100 per cent. I also think that there is a special need for GPs in rural areas. I certainly support looking at Medicare to take into account the extra time that GPs spend addressing the needs of patients from rural areas, and that is something that I will be continuing to push. But I think all of these measures, especially in the health area, have been absolutely fantastic, including of course the new measures in these appropriation bills for $104 million over the next four years to enable general practices to employ more practice nurses—a great measure for many areas like mine. Also, $43.4 million is being made available to help reduce the after-hours workload on rural doctors.

There are also measures to tackle major chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma and mental illness. I will take a moment to place on record how absolutely appalled I was at the scare campaign run by ALP candidates with regard to diabetes. Nothing could be further from the truth. The scare campaign that was run was absolutely disgraceful but probably typical of many of the people involved. This government is reinforcing its commitment to fight diabetes by providing $50 million in funding to allow GPs to better manage patients with diabetes and to improve the prevention and early diagnosis of the disease. The study that formed the basis of these recommendations was actually begun in the area of Diamond Creek in my electorate, and I am very pleased to be able to say that the work done in my area has contributed to this. I see that time is running out and I still have a lot to say about these measures. No doubt I will have opportunities in other forums. I commend this bill to the House.